CONTEMPLATIVE ART AS A WAY OF KNOWING, LEARNING, AND TRANSFORMATION
...by contemplatively placing symbols, shapes, colors and lines on paper or canvas we create maps or diagrams of our inner experiences.
Contemplative Art, a form of Process Art provides access to deeper aspects of ourselves, including the feelings and symbols that reside in our inner landscapes. Using art mediums to describe these symbols and pre-verbal feelings allows us to start cognizing them. That is by contemplatively placing symbols, shapes, colors and lines on paper or canvas we create maps or diagrams of our inner experiences. This solidification of the experience
using art mediums offers a way to translate the pre-verbal into words, which then allows us to understand the new meanings that arise in our inner landscapes. These new meanings can relate to personal or academic learning.
I have been experimenting with both in experiments, lectures and workshops; here Rachael from the Meditation Lab I ran at UNSW in 2014 visually describes stress (red, blue and green) and calm (green):
The inner landscape we enter through Contemplative Art is very different from the Cartesian mental interior bounded and separate from its contexts. Rather, it is similar to another aspect of the Medieval interior, deserted by Descartes in his rush to ease the “great Cartesian anxiety” (Bordo 1986). This is a more permeable space the 16th Century mystic Kabir describes as the “breath within the breath” (Kabir, 2004). For the Medieval individual who still lived through the hermetic axiom of sicut superius et inferius (as above so below) this space wasn’t delimited by their skin in an objective inner reality. As microcosms of the macrocosm they were permeable, their inner selves interwoven through outer reality by earthly and celestial threads of correspondence. This interstitial space, was described by Meister Echkart in the 13th Century as the desert within “the wilderness (einoede, wiestunge). It is a region that seven centuries later Jason, a yogi and participant in my PhD research, spoke of mapping through his yoga practice. It is also the space described in 2015 by art students at UNSW Art & Design in a collective contemplative drawing exercise from my lecture, “Creativity from the inside out: Learning Feelings,” UNSW Art and Design, Sydney, Australia:
It is also the space that students from Rhode Island School of Design entered through contemplative art in my lecture on Contemplative Art:
I have brought Contemplative Art to the community; here in a Contemplative Art in the Garden workshop, funded by the Randwick City Council, Sydney, participants engage with the natural world around them as they developed new understandings of themselves in relation to nature.
Researching in Contemplative Mathematics (see: Morgan, P. and D. Abrahamson (2016). "Cultivating the ineffable: The role of contemplative practice in enactivist learning." For the Learning of Mathematics” ) I worked with Heather on a proportion exercise using somatic contemplative drawing :
It’s important to remember that Heather didn’t know that each of the exercises she performed were related to proportion though her creative work described a funnel-like space that grew proportionally.
In a second contemplative mathematics experiment I worked with Emma a third year accounting student on this equation CAPM = r(f) x [r(m) – r (f)]; WACC = [w(d) xr x (l – T] + [w(E) x r (E)]. Rather than engaging the problem cognitively and after contemplative practice she was guided to explore it through image and sensation, such as walking around it and experiencing its color and size. Firstly, she saw her problem as a very solid red box with a cross marked on its lid, then as the practice continued, a large wave broke over the box and shattered it into pieces. While she didn’t ‘solve’ the problem, she began the process for as she felt the wave breaking the red box into pieces, she realized for the first time that she could break the equations into pieces to help her solve the whole problem.
Collective Contemplative Mark Making: Most recently, in June, 2018, I conducted a contemplative art workshop at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Germany, where we worked on understanding links between participants’ inner impulses and their work processes, through a collective contemplative mark making exercise I have designed:
It is important to remember that these workshops, lectures and experiments are investigating “processes” participants’ experience in order to understand workings of the contemplative interior. The workshops and experiments examine different aspects of pre-conceptual learning that can occur, including heightened self- and intersubjective awareness, and pre-conceptual learning of academic content. While the drawings that result from these practices may appear naive they are critical in contemplative arts research as they solidify pre-conceptual learning, remaining as symbols that participants can use to cognize their learning.